I didn’t see this coming. I am a grey-haired, middle aged woman living on a farm in rural Wisconsin, with two Nubian kid goats (and two chickens) in my garage. At 40-something (a decade ago, give or take), I was wrapping up a New York interior design career, and scrambling onto the path of establishing psychotherapy practice in the Minneapolis suburbs. My work as a therapist was all about a person’s inner world. Interior design, with a pointed focus on ones outer environment, seemed the direct opposite. Inside–outside. Yin and Yang.
These opposites have something in common, too. They are the domain of ones personal, and very private, life. The private territory of inner-person and personal sanctuary often goes untouched by the hand of an outsider. And with good reason; they represent an area of great vulnerability—and a large part of what makes an individual unique. A self-appointed fixer-upper of the lives and environments of others may have just a little bit of a control thing going on. Good-intentioned manipulation, but manipulation just the same. But that was then. Things are more in balance now.
I keep goats because…They’re making me over: softening the edges of a need for control and fear of the good stuff—love and bliss and the messyness of life. They’ve blurred the lines of fun and work, giving me glimpses of their sameness.
They are anti-control and shun social order. Goats do not seek an expert in order to better themselves. They don’t give a rip about anyone’s degree, credentials, or skill set, and so I’m just one of the herd. No more, no less. If I want to see them (or get them away from the Lilac Bush) I can call them in until I’m blue in the face, and just see a momentary glance of their busy, blossom-filled faces, before they turn away again and continue chewing. (Meanwhile, my dog, Gobo, comes at an obedient trot.)
If they feel like it, they’ll come; otherwise, I’d better have treats in my back pocket if I really mean business. I am not the boss of them.
They follow their bliss. My dog Gobo, embracing the merits of order, keeps his bliss well contained. He brings his own toy outside to play with–the thing he’s identified as his sock or empty plastic water bottle. Not so with the goats. Their bliss, involving my things, does not reflect my own limited understanding. It is much more unbridled. I might lecture them with Andy-of-Mayberry restraint and wisdom on the folly of pulling buckets off shelves and hoses from their hooks, but they’ll ignore the merits of my well-constructed logic, and do it anyway. Just because it’s fun.
Back in the field, I can fence a nice “turnout” that excludes vegetables and flowers and picnic tables and backyard gatherings. The goats slip under, between, and over, a display of both boundary reconfiguration and their personal philosophy that fences are just barriers for the more ambitious fun-lovers to work around.
Lovers in weird costumes. Okay, so maybe they are not the beaux of the barn with bells. Their affectionate personalities more than make up for what they might be lacking in beauty. My goats call to me each and every time I’m within earshot. If I succumb to their invitation to visit, they rub their fuzzy faces against mine then look right into my eyes.
They’ll accompany me on a long stroll through the neighboring woods, stopping here and there for a taste of clover or an oak leaf, then running to catch up so we can continue along side-by-side. Back on the farm, a single yearling may endure the shock of an electric fence ribbon just to be with me. To hang out while I weed the garden or do field work—returning to be with his herd-mates only when I go inside or get in the car.
When the water buckets have turned into blocks of ice, I might call out in the general direction of their insulated shelter, just to make sure they’re out of the cold. They always reply with a groan-like “hello” through the door flap, keeping open the lines of communication.
Their love extends beyond “just me and you.” They are fond brothers, sleeping intertwined at night and standing shoulder to shoulder a good part of the day. Head butts, part of their play, are mere faximiles of the real thing. One goat’s dramatic wind-up on the haunches will end with the gentlest of head-taps to the other.
The treat their garage-mates well, too. At feeding time, they share feed-bowl resources with chickens a fraction of their size, demonstrating a “love you, Brother” interspecies one-ness.
Fun and work are the same. They have an effortless part in nature’s chain of command. Their favorite food: weeds and other undesirables. Box elder and Buckthorn (invasives in this area) are special treats. Clearing an entire field left fallow is a joy-filled task. Trimming around my tractor shed and cleaning up the scrappy box-elder grove is done without so much as a work-requisite. Their manure is so garden-ready that one can cut out the extra composting step to add nutrient-rich food back to the earth. An even better built-in shortcut: Leave other compostable things—like the discarded trimmings from soup vegetables—in a feed bucket and they’ll manufacture even more of the good stuff. Organic-grade fertilizer on a 24-hour turn around.
They are anti-grownup. Goats are uber silly, which revs up my inner first-grader. Soon I’m delivering their feed with a Mrs Doubtfire man-falsetto. Crooning a Beatles tune at the top of my lungs, mangling the lyrics of “Hello.” Calling their winter coats “outfits” and straightening them like a Barbie Doll aficionado.
Goats are better teachers for me than anyone I can think of right at this moment. The have pulled me far off the path of order and productivity, making me course-correct from displaced priorities. Loving, anti-authority bastions of good will and effortless work, they’ve shifted my worldview from an interpretation that necessitates struggle, to a heart-filled embrace of the co-mingling of earnest work with rest and relaxation. They’ve rearranged my “how” of purposeful living, crossing out “effort” and writing in “ease.”